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Choosing the animal-free option isn’t always a statement. Sometimes it’s just a tasty alternative.
More of these alternative restaurants are popping up throughout Orange County as diners seek meals made without animal products. While we don’t expect a complete carnivore conversion anytime soon, the more dining options to choose from, the better. So next time you want a break from steak, give one of these surprising spots a try. Note: All “meats” mentioned are vegan substitutes.
1. Native Foods Café
This growing chain has four O.C. locations. Try the Rockin’ Moroccan Bowl ($10), left, with grilled “chicken” and veggies, a tangy North African-style sauce, and a mix of toasted almonds, currants, and quinoa. Sip a refreshing lavender lemonade ($2.50), and for dessert, share a carrot-“cream cheese” cupcake ($3) with a friend. Aliso Viejo, Costa Mesa, Newport Beach, and Tustin; nativefoods.com
2. The Stan
Order a fresh-squeezed apple juice ($2) and gaze at the ocean while you wait for your meal. Then sit in the shade of a tree and enjoy a fresh fruit, nut, and green salad ($7). Chock-full of varied texture and color, the hummus bowl ($5) includes quinoa, avocado, shredded beets, and carrots. Full day at the beach? Get a potato-and-guacamole burrito filled with chilies, beans, and salsa ($5) to go. 238 Thalia St., Laguna Beach, 949-494-8101
3. Bodhi Tree
Buddhist decor creates a calming atmosphere at this cozy hideaway. Start with appetizers such as the Eggless Egg Rolls ($5) or spring rolls ($6). As orange peel “chicken” ($10) arrives at your table, the scent of citrus fills the air. Add a cup of hot lotus tea ($1.50) for a dose of comfort, and be sure to nab a few chocolate-chip cookies ($2.50 each) on your way out. 501 Main St., Huntington Beach, 714-969-9500, bodhitreehb.com
It feels like summer when you bite into the grilled BLT ($10.50) at this chic enclave. Stacked with crispy romaine, savory “bacon,” and sweet tomatoes, it’s half the guilt and all the flavor of the traditional. The cafe also sells several flavored loose-leaf teas, including Organic Peppermint ($4.50 per jar). Be careful where you sit—you may end up staring at temptation in the form of the pastry case. 191 E. Main St., Tustin, 714-371-0976,freesoulcaffe.com
5. Wheel of Life
Owner Victor Lim greets you at his “vegan power” restaurant with a big smile and a hearty welcome. Warm up with hot jasmine tea ($1.50) and a cup of spicy Thai tom-kah-kai “chicken” soup ($9) made with coconut milk. We also like the Prik Khing, a “beef” curry with green beans ($9). End on a sweet note with a slice of Better Than Cheesecake ($4). 14370 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-551-8222, wheelofliferestaurant.com
6. 118 Degrees
At this raw-food haven, cremini mushrooms topped with pesto ($7) make a great starter. For the main course, go with the husk-wrapped sweet corn tamales ($14) filled with marinated portobellos and salsa, served with a creamy Napa slaw and a good dollop of guacamole. 2981 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-754-0718, 118degrees.com
7. Loving Hut
While burgers and lasagna are on the menu, most dishes have a Southeast Asian influence. Made with tender sliced “beef,” green peppers, and onions, the Fabulous Mongolian ($7.50) packs a flavorful punch. Get cozy with a bowl of Royal Noodle Soup ($6.50) made with jalapeños, cabbage, and lime juice. For dessert, try a slice of pandan cake ($3.50), which gets its pale-green color from the leaves of the tropical plant of the same name. 237 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, 714-464-0544, lovinghut.us
8. Veggie Grill
Friendly service and a contemporary feel add sparkle to this vegan hangout. The tasty Santa Fe Crispy Chickin sandwich ($9) is topped with avocado, onion, and lettuce. All Hail Kale Salad ($8) brings joy to the senses with colorful green kale and red cabbage, crunchy walnuts, and ginger dressing. And for dessert, don’t miss the chocolate pudding parfait ($3.50). 81 Fortune Drive, Irvine, 949-727-9900; 4213 Campus Drive, Irvine, 949-509-0003; veggiegrill.com
photography by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of Orange Coast magazine.